Sunday, August 20, 2006
Sick For Home
I never quite understood what people meant when they said they felt like they didn't belong anywhere, or they don't feel like they have a home. It's something you brush off until you experience it yourself. The longing in their voices and eyes isn't easily detected by the casual listener. But, when you join the club - you know the members.
In my case the feeling of loss is compounded by the feeling of regret. You see I was not forced from my home by rising flood waters, or gusting winds. I left on my own accord, exactly one year before the arrival of hurricane Katrina. I left because I wanted a new start, and I wanted that new start to be as far away from Louisiana as I could manage. I enjoyed exploring my new surroundings in Columbus Ohio, and New Orleans paled in comparison. Columbus was cleaner, brighter, there was less crime, the shopping was better, the air was cleaner, the sun shone brighter, etc. etc., etc. My sister began calling Columbus "wonderland" because of my constant exhortations of the joys of Ohio.
Now don't get me wrong, I missed home, but I attributed it to missing my family. I returned home to visit exactly two times before the hurricane. Each time I did the usual things, ate boiled seafood, and beignets, drank and visited family and friends. The second time I went home it was to witness my daughter making her debut, which is a big deal in New Orleans. (The debutante ball allows young women to be presented "into" society. ) I took these things for granted, because I thought I could return at anytime and experience them again.
I was not only wrong, I was mistaken on several levels. I went home in February for Tipsy's wedding. I never thought things could change as much as they have. The city has morphed into some eerie Matrix like movie. Some of the places have been repaired, and some of the residents are back, but it is not the same. The configuration of the city has changed immensely. Two thirds of the pre-Katrina population was African-American. Now one third of the population is African-American. The sights on the city streets are different. There politics are different. The city looks gray and sad. I felt like everyone was pretending things would be better - but I wasn't buying it.
I grew up on the Westbank of the Mississippi River in a suburb of New Orleans named Marrero. It's a country looking city, built of many tightknit communities. There was never much crime in Marrero or the surrounding suburbs partially because of the longtime Sheriff Shoot'em First and Question'em Later", and partially because it just wasn't acceptable. It was a relatively quiet and safe place to grow up. Now it's not. The young people on the Westbank have decided they are going to kill each other. They have been practicing everyday and every night, and appear to be doing very well towards their intended goal of destruction. My sister is afraid to let her children play outside. My mother is afraid in her home. My family has begun moving out of Louisiana one family at a time.
I miss having beignets at Cafe DuMonde with Tipsy. I miss second line music, and the Rebirth Brass Band. I miss having sno-balls from the Lemeiux's sno-ball stand. I miss swinging at the river with MyKiddo. I miss buying boiled crawfish from the mean man at J&J's Seafood. I miss doing the "bus stop" with Tiny at every family gathering, picnic, seafood boil, barbecue or wedding reception. I miss buying silver jewelry at the French Market. I miss the smiling gold-toothed faces of black people at the Louis Armstrong International Airport. I miss concerts at the House of Blues, Tipatina's and Saenger. I miss hearing my uncle Handsome talk. I miss redbeans and rice on Monday's. I miss my daddy. I miss my dog. I miss Popeyes Chicken on Woodmere. I miss sitting outside with my sister eating cold cups and watching the children. I miss my mama. I miss Ames Boulevard, Lapalco Avenue and Manhattan. I miss the mosquito man spraying. I miss the Lakefront. I miss fried green tomatoes from Liuzza's. I miss drive-thru daiquiris from daiquiris and Cream. I miss the Mardi Gras Indians. I miss the Jazz Festival. I miss the Symphony Under The Oaks. I miss my friends. I miss the Strawberry Festival (even though it's held in a racist area in Louisiana). I miss the high fallutin' 7th warders. I miss the toll booths. I miss hearing a man on the street holler to me as I pass by,"Hey Red! Can I come?"
These things will never be the same, and I'm sick for Home.